Candidate Academy Encourages People to Run for Local Office

An upcoming informational program aims to encourage people to run for local office. The Candidate Academy will outline the basic requirements, issues, expectations, and practices associated with public service. The no-cost program is being presented by the Joint Governmental Affairs Committee of the Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce and Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau and sponsored by ArchCentral Architects of Bloomsburg.

The Candidate Academy will be held on Thursday, February 23rd from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. in the front meeting room of the Bloomsburg Fire Hall, 911 Market Street. Anyone considering running for a local office such as borough or town council, township board of supervisors, or school board, or who would simply like to better understand the election process is welcome to attend. Topics to be covered will include: timing and deadlines for circulating and filing petitions, campaign financing, reporting requirements, ethics, the Sunshine Act, and other issues. A panel of local elected officials will also share their insights about campaigning and public service.

The last day for candidates to circulate and file nomination petitions for the 2017 elections is March 7th.

As space is limited, anyone interested in attending should register online or by calling the Chamber of Commerce at 570-784-2522. For more information, contact Fred Gaffney, Chamber President, by phone or email at fgaffney@cmpartnership.org.

Wolf Budget Includes Additional Investments in Education and Business

On Tuesday, PA Governor Tom Wolf unveiled his 2017-18 budget proposal. His General Fund budget of $32.3 billion represents an increase of $571.5 million, or 1.8 percent, over the current spending plan. Cuts and savings of $2 billion are included to avoid “broad-based tax increases”. Wolf continues to advocate for additional spending on education. Included in his budget is a $100 million increase for Pre-K to 12 basic education. The budget also would provide an additional $8.9 million for the 14 universities of the State System of Higher Education.

The plan seeks to support manufacturers by establishing an apprenticeship grant program and a manufacturing training-to-career grant program. A “one-stop-shop” would be created within the Department of Community and Economic Development to streamline the process for business establishment or expansion. An additional $2.5 million is proposed to assist economic development organizations in reaching out to identify employer needs. The Governor’s budget also provides $6.1 million for tourism marketing at the state level. Of immediate concern to the business community, the Governor continues his push for an increase in the minimum wage to $12 per hour.

A severance tax on the natural gas industry is again being proposed. And, the expansion of sales tax is also included in the budget, but limited to specialty software and computer services, prepared food sold to airlines, aircraft maintenance and repair, and business storage that does not contribute to a justifiable return in increased business investment. Cuts and savings amounting to a projected $2 billion include consolidating state agencies. The Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole would be merged into a new Department of Criminal Justice. A new Department of Health and Human services would merge the program functions of the departments of Human Services, Health, Aging, and Drug and Alcohol Programs.

A summary of the Governor’s proposal is available here. Additional details on the impact of the proposed budget will be provided in the coming weeks. A budget breakfast program is also being scheduled for members this spring.

State Preemption of Local Leave Mandate Bill Clears Senate Committee

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

Last week, the Senate Local Government Committee advanced legislation that would establish state preemption of laws that require employers to implement specific employee leave policies.

Senate Bill 128, co-sponsored by Senator Gordner, was authored in light of recently enacted laws in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh that require employers to adopt a one-size-fits-all employee leave and paid time off policy. These mandates fail to take into account the size, industry and financial stability that make businesses unique. They especially harm businesses that operate in multiple jurisdictions, as they force employers to take on new administrative complications and costs as they tailor their HR policies to a patchwork of local laws.

Before the committee meeting to consider S.B. 128, the PA Chamber sent a memo urging support for the bill because it would help employers and improve the state’s business climate. The Columbia Montour Chamber supported similar legislation that moved through the House in 2014.   The legislation now awaits consideration by the full Senate.

New Workplace Injury Rules Now in Effect

Following delays due to a legal challenge, provisions of a new Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) record-keeping rule took effect on December 1. Employers must now inform employees about their right to report workplace injuries and illness without facing retaliation. Online reporting provisions took effect January 1st.

The new rule also prohibits automatic post-accident drug testing. Employers must now have a reasonable suspicion that drug use was a contributing factor to a reported injury. Policies clarifying such conditions are encouraged.

Additional details are available on OSHA’s website.

Economic Survey Reveals Employers’ Concerns

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry Employer confidence is on the rise, but many business leaders are still hesitant to invest and hire. These indicators are among the responses from the PA Chamber’s 26th Annual Economic Survey, which was conducted by G. Terry Madonna Opinion Research from August through October 2016 and completed in partnership with the High Center at Elizabethtown College.

According to the survey, employers’ top concerns are taxes – with the state’s 9.99 percent Corporate Net Income Tax rate being listed as the greatest tax barrier to growth. Also high on the list are rising health insurance costs (61 percent of survey participants say health insurance premiums increased over the last year); lawsuit abuse and excessive environmental regulation. Another key area of concern was workforce, with only two in five survey respondents saying they thought the quality of the state’s workforce was “excellent” or “good” (an issue the PA Chamber is working to tackle through its new Start the Conversation Here workforce development initiative.)

“Certainly, the extreme premium hikes we’ve seen in the post-Obamacare marketplace are going to lead more businesses to reduce employee benefits or even drop insurance coverage for their workers,” PA Chamber President Gene Barr said in a press release announcing the survey results. “We will continue to advocate for increasing employer flexibility and eliminating costly mandates as we educate employers on how to achieve compliance and maximize their options.”